MyMy Mother Said I Never Should’. - The most widely performed play ever written by a woman

Felicity Houlbrooke in Mother Said I Should Never. Photo by Sheils Burnett
Felicity Houlbrooke in Mother Said I Should Never. Photo by Sheils Burnett

Written by Charlotte Keatley, My Mother Said I Never Should is is the most widely performed play ever written by a woman having been produced in thirty-one countries worldwide.

Premiered in 1987 it is now studied at GCSE, A Level and in Universities and Drama Schools.

This revival production by London Classic Theatre, directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Michael Cabot, has come to Eastbourne as part of a three month nation-wide tour.

The play opens with carefree girls singing the age-old skipping song which gives the play its title.

The setting is derelict industrial waste ground and one to which the action frequently returns over the ensuing half century.

During this period, 1940 to 1987, the play traces the complex relationships of mothers and daughters and reveals the secrets and lies which so often form part of the fabric of everyday family life.

War-time Manchester, with bleak air-raid shelters and sirens, finds Doris (Carole Dance) seeking to instil the virtues of hard work into her nine-year old daughter, Margaret (Connie Walker). But it soon becomes apparent that life never turns out as planned. Margaret grows up, gets married and leaves Lancashire for London. Her own daughter, Jackie (Kathryn Ritchie), becomes an art student, and soon pregnant gives birth to Rosie (Felicity Houlbrooke) who, in a crucial decision, is handed over to Margaret to be brought up as if she was her own child.

Sensitively designed by Bek Palmer, with costumes accurately reflecting changing fashions over the years, the play adopts a non-linear timeline structure which occasionally requires a ‘second take’ to know exactly ho is where, why, and when. Despite listing ‘Landmarks for Women 1900-2018’ in the programme there is surprisingly little reference to any of these in the play.

One scene which does, however, resonate is when in the aftermath of Doris passing away her family is sorting through her clothes and photographs.

This poignantly highlights the passing of time which, for better or worse, continues to affect us all.

My Mother Said I Never Should runs at the Devonshire Park Theatre until Saturday (November 10).

Review by Roger Paine